The importance of employee appraisals and performance reviews in HR is nothing new. But, in many cases the last comprehensive performance review with the boss may well have been several years ago.
Poor quality is a warning signal
Even when regular performance review meetings do take place, they are not always satisfactory. Instead of feeling motivated and coming away with a career plan, many employees are left feeling frustrated and disorientated after the meeting. Specific individual measures for career development are rarely dealt with.
Define the aims of the meeting
Regular well conducted reviews are an important prerequisite for this. One annual appraisal is no longer sufficient. There are plenty of reasons for one-to-one meetings between employees and HR staff – be it to discuss criticism, feedback, goals and objectives, salary or recognition. To ensure a productive meeting, it's important to define the scope of the discussion in advance. Think about what you wish to achieve from the meeting. Is it about motivating the employee by recognising his or her achievements to ensure continued high performance? Are you looking to increase someone's responsibilities and/or make them available to other departments? Are there conflicts to be resolved or is there a need for better cooperation with colleagues? Don't forget to give the employee concerned the opportunity to provide his or her input for the agenda.
Irrespective of the reason for the discussion, good preparation is essential for a successful meeting. Employees will quickly notice if you are not adequately prepared and will interpret this as a lack of interest on your part. You should also have some sound arguments ready. This is only possible when you've taken a good look at the employee's work and assessed it. It means you'll be able to support your appraisal with specific examples. This is even more important if you need to talk about areas of criticism.
Motivating even with criticism
For most managers criticising a member of staff is no easy task; it requires diplomacy and an ability to empathise. Your ultimate goal is to improve the situation by making the employee aware of any personal shortcomings, achieving understanding and motivating them to improve their performance. On the other hand, if you make clumsy accusations both sides will become entrenched very quickly; and, instead of understanding and motivation, you will create frustration and a feeling of resignation. This doesn't help the employee or the company. There are also HR professionals who avoid the subject by simply leaving criticism out of the discussion. This can mean that the employee's appraisal ends up being better then his or her performance justifies. Where subjective reviews by line mangers are linked to bonus payments, it may result in financial losses to the company, since the employee's performance bears no relation to the level of compensation. Appropriate and proper criticism is just as important as recognition. The way you communicate it is crucial.
Tips for a pleasant atmosphere during reviews:
- Invite the employee to the meeting well in advance (approx. 2 - 3 weeks) to allow adequate time for preparation, and put together an agenda that includes all of the critical issues you wish to raise. Why? So that you give the employee the chance to be well prepared.
- Make sure you're fully prepared as well: familiarise yourself with the work situation and the employee's recent projects, and take a look at the latest goals agreed. What positive developments can you identify?
- Allow sufficient time for the meeting - about 60 - 90 minutes. It's very frustrating for employees when criticism is not fully explained because you have another appointment.
- Avoid sitting directly opposite one another. The situation will be more relaxed from the start if, for example, you sit at the corner of a conference table with a cup of coffee.
- Don't be blunt. Start by making a couple of remarks to put the employee at ease. You can assume that he or she feels in the weaker position, so it's up to you to take the initiative with small talk.
- Positive expressions: don't tell the employee that he or she has done something badly, but that you believe they could do it better.
- Give objective, but never personal criticism by always referring to shortcomings in the context of specific work situations or tasks.
- Rather than lecturing the employee or making accusations, use factual arguments and offer your support.
- Wrap up the discussion with a positive closing remark, for example "I'm pleased that we have talked so openly about this".
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